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Implementation of a Module to Increase Engineering Students' Awareness of Unconscious Bias

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

For Students to Know and Grow

Tagged Divisions

Equity and Culture & Social Justice in Education

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Paper Authors


Emily Lauber Microsoft

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Emily Lauber graduated in May 2017 with a B.S. in Civil Engineering and a minor in Science, Technology and Society from Arizona State University. Since then, she has worked in various product management roles in software consulting. Most recently, Emily joined Microsoft as a Technical Program Manager.

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Benjamin Emery Mertz Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

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Dr. Benjamin Mertz received his Ph. D. in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Notre Dame in 2010 and B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in 2005. He spent 7 years as a part of a lecturer team at Arizona State University that focused on the first-year engineering experience, including developing and teaching the Introduction to Engineering course. Currently, he is an assistant professor at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in the Mechanical Engineering department. His teaching focus is in fluid mechanics and thermodynamics but has also taught classes such as numerical methods and introduction to engineering. His interests include student pathways and motivations into engineering and developing lab-based curriculum. He has also developed an interest in non-traditional modes of content delivery including online classes and flipped classrooms and incorporating the entrepreneurial mindset into curriculum.

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Engineers spend several years studying intense technical details of the processes that shape our world, yet few are exposed to classes addressing social behaviors or issues. Engineering culture creates specific barriers to addressing social science issues, such as unconscious bias, within engineering classrooms. The developed curriculum uses optical illusions, Legos, and the instructor’s vulnerability to tackle unconscious bias in a way that addresses the barriers in engineering culture that prevent engineers from learning social science issues.

Unconscious bias has documented long-term negative impacts on success and personal development. Incorporating a module into an engineering classroom that addresses unconscious bias with the aim of reducing the negative effects of bias can benefit developing engineers by improving product development and team diversity. Engineering culture fosters disengagement with social issues through three pillars: depoliticization, technical/social dualism, and meritocracy. The developed curriculum uses optical illusions and Legos as proxies to start discussions about unconscious bias. The proxies allow engineers to explore their own biases without running into one of the pillars of disengagement that limits the engineer’s willingness to discuss social issues.

The curriculum was implemented in the Fall of 2017 in an upper-division business in engineering class as part of a professional communication module. The module received qualitatively positive feedback from fellow instructors and students. The curriculum was only implemented once by the author, but future implementations should be done with a different instructor and using quantitative data to measure if the learning objectives were achieved.

Lauber, E., & Mertz, B. E. (2021, July), Implementation of a Module to Increase Engineering Students' Awareness of Unconscious Bias Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36522

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